Laura Dean Bennett
When West Virginia Ministries, Advocacy and Work Camps, located in Summersville, wanted to send a team of volunteers to Marlinton, they contacted the Family Resource Network.
The FRN is a clearinghouse for putting together people in need with the individuals or organizations who can help.
“We distributed forms to be filled out and used them to determine which families would best benefit by the work this team could do,” FRN project manager Becky Campbell said.
“I’m so happy for the families who are getting this help.”
Project Foreman Buck Edwards, from Buckhannon, comes to this work with an impressive résumé of civic service.
For instance, he’s a former Deputy Emergency Manager for Upshur County and the 2016 Gilmer County Citizen of the Year.
In addition to doing “the Lord’s work,” Edwards is a notary, busy with real estate closings, and he also has a cooking and catering business.
He said that he was glad to get a chance to come to Pocahontas County and that West Virginia Ministries was keen to get a foothold in Marlinton to help the people in Pocahontas County who could use their services.
“I’ve been doing this for several years now,” Edwards said. “It started after the 2016 flood when so many people in Buckhannon wanted to send help to Richwood and the other areas which were so hard hit.
“I opened up a place in Buckhannon for people to bring their donations and in two and a half days, we’d collected $10,000.
“I worked for the Methodist Conference for about five years. They spent $5 million doing recovery work after that flood,” Edwards explained.
“It’s an honor to be able to make a difference in people’s lives after they have lost everything.
“West Virginia Ministries asked me to supervise their work crews this summer, and they wanted to send a team into Marlinton.
“So this week, I’m here with a team of volunteers from Indiana who are doing work on three homes. And we hope to be back one of these days to do some more. They’re really keen to come back and finish up a few things that we had to leave undone.”
“West Virginia is blessed to get these volunteer teams,” Edwards said.
“They come a long way to do this work. We’ve got teams all the way from Maine to Missouri, coming into our state to do work like this.”
The teams affiliated with West Virginia Ministries don’t just show up and do the work.
“These teams raise money all year long to pay for their lodging, and they pay for part of the materials we use,” he explained.
“It’s a lot – it’s a real sacrifice. They leave their families, give up their vacation time, to come and do this kind of work.
“So I try to make sure that we accomplish enough while we’re here, that when they leave, they can honestly say, ‘It was really worth it,’ Edwards said, smiling.
Each member of the team might have their own personal spin to put on the motivation to do this kind of mission work, but each one will tell you that doing this work brings them more satisfaction than they think they are bringing to the people they’re helping.
“We get as much blessing out of this work as the people we’re doing it for,” Stephanie Mbathi said.
This intrepid group of 13 good neighbors traveled all the way from Noblesville, Indiana – a distance of 450 miles – where they are members of the Mill Church of the Nazarene.
This is a congregation formed about 80 years ago with a special interest in outreach mission projects.
“We’re still focused on mission work today,” Mbathi said.
One of the “apprentice carpenters,” Mbathi took time from her work to stand in the shade in the front yard and talk about the work.
This trip is a family affair for her and her family. She came with her husband, sister, brother and niece.
In addition to building ramps, these crews have done all kinds of small construction jobs – from refurbishing a bathroom to replacing doors and windows.
More experienced carpenters are matched with apprentices who are learning on the job.
And when they’re not traveling to do work away from home, they’re working at home.
They’ve recently done landscaping for their local elementary school and provided gifts for its teachers.
Meanwhile, here in Marlinton, it promised to be a real scorcher, so the team got an early start, resuming work on the ramp project that began the day before at the Jim Lizotte home.
It turned out to be so beautiful when it was finished, they decided to give it a coat of varnish.
Over at the Keatley home, Patti Keatley and her son, Greg, were over-the-moon about the work the team was doing at their home.
“I’m retired now,” Ms. Keatley explained. “But I worked at the DHHR for forty-two years. And I helped people all the time. It was my job.
“Times are rough right now and here I am, needing a little help myself. I’ve never had to ask for that before,” she said, with tears in her eyes.
“These people have been so kind and wonderful,” she continued.
The team had been hard at work installing a handicap ramp and replacing several windows.
“I never would have thought I could have had all of this done so quickly and by perfect strangers!” Keatley said.
Her son, Greg, was with the construction crew the whole time.
“He’s helping, and I think he’s learning a lot,” Keatley said, proudly.
“Yeah, it’s been fun,” Greg said. “These guys are so easy to work with.”
To get more done in less time, the team split up so some of them could move on to the Tena Bennett home.
Bennett, known to many in the community for her excellent cooking and catering, is trying to make ends meet while raising grandchildren.
The Indianans replaced an old, unworkable door with insulated windows for her.
It was an unusually hot and humid day – 92 degrees – but the volunteers were working hard and Bennett, standing outside watching them at the saw, was smiling.
“These people are just wonderful,” she said.
“I can’t say enough about them. It’s enough to restore your faith in people. It really is,” she added.
After a hard day of work, the group made itself at home in the comfortable accommodations of Eaden in the Alleghenies in Huntersville.
They were only here for a week.
If they get all their work done in time, they might have part of a day to sightsee a little bit before heading home.
“It’s amazing what a few hard-working people can accomplish in a couple of days,” Campbell said.
“It’s brought a tear to my eye more than once, talking to the recipients of this work, who tell me what a blessing it will be to have a ramp entrance at their home.
“These people who came all this way to help us are just the best. We just appreciate them so much,” Campbell added.
Maybe the best comment about this brand of outreach ministry was made by Marlinton resident Peggy Owens.
As she passed one of the work sites and was told what was going on, she said:
“Now that’s what Christianity is all about.”